The city council voted unanimously on Monday to give the Showbox a 10-month temporary protection from demolition, ensuring that the historic venue cannot be razed before next summer.
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The council protected the venue by expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District to include the building, effectively blocking any quick demolition or change of use for the historic nightclub. The Onni Group, a Vancouver developer, filed paperwork last month with the city to raze the historic nightclub and replace it with a $100 million, 44-story apartment building.
The council took a surprisingly strong stand in protecting the venue after earlier reports indicated that worry over legal matters would delay the vote. Council Member Lorena González even remarked that "the Showbox is not going anywhere" before voting to protect the venue.
Council Member Kshama Sawant, who has spearheaded the effort to expanded the Pike Place Market Historic District and save the historic venue, said that more than 100,000 people had voiced support for saving the nearly 80-year-old venue.
"We need to come back to organizing, so please stay in touch with us," Sawant said. "We will succeed in saving the Showbox but... this could be the catalyst for the future struggle for affordable housing. Maybe we can win the Amazon tax that was repealed, maybe we can win a tax on big businesses. Why should we stop with just saving the Showbox?"
Sawant has taken the most public stand on protecting the Showbox, quickly proposing legislation, pressuring the council to fast-track her legislative attempt, and rallying her supporters to attend meetings and call for the venue's protection. Sawant even appeared on KEXP last week with Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, to argue for the theater's protections.
Council Member Lisa Herbold said she was briefed on an attempt from the Onni Group's lawyers to try to preserve some of the venue's history, but not the actual use of the venue, something she said would be a "hollow effort."
"It’s a hollow effort because… there are things about this structure that are so important to maintain," Herbold said.
Council Member Rob Johnson was not present for Monday's vote.
Council Member Sally Bagshaw said it would be unacceptable for the Showbox to be demolished and built at a different location in the city.
"It’s not going to be... preserved if it is scraped and then something else is built there and the Showbox is put elsewhere," Bagshaw said.
Monday's council meeting came after a two-and-a-half-week scramble to save the Showbox. On July 25, news broke that the Onni Group planned to raze the Showbox and replace it with a 44-story, $100 million apartment building. An online petition quickly gained thousands of signatures. By Monday's meeting, it had passed 90,000 online signatures, and local leaders rushed to say that they would fight to save the beloved venue.
The first attempts to save the venue largely focused on the city's landmark preservation law, a program that has protected more than 400 historic structures across the city. But landmark status only protects certain physical aspects of a building, not how a building is used, leaving the possibility that the developer could still raze most of the theater even if the city gave the building landmark status.
The preservation attempts then shifted toward expanding the Pike Place Market Historical District, a special carve out of the city that protects the historic market and ends a few hundred feet from the Showbox's front door. The market's historic district is the only part of the city where the actual use of a building is regulated by a public board, giving a mechanism for preserving both the building and its current use as a nightclub.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan, who needs to sign the council's ordinance for it to become law, has not expressed support for the council's action. She said she sent city representatives to speak with Onni about possibly finding a way forward that includes both the Showbox and the Onni's new building. No other details of those negotiations have been publicly released.